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Museum Keeps Plant City History Alive Through Photos And Enlists Kids To Help

Jeanette Abrahamsen

This week on Florida Matters we focus on the places and events that make Plant City special, like the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center.

It is the second episode in our special two-part series "Telling Tampa Bay Stories: Plant City." Part 1 featured a diverse group of people who call the Hillsborough community home.

Part 2 looks at the Florida Strawberry Festival, Johnson BBQ restaurant and other Plant City attractions.

In the preview for this week’s show, Gil Gott, Executive Director of the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center, talks about the work the museum does to preserve the community’s history and how kids are getting involved.

Meet some of the Jr. Archivists Gott talked about in his story on this week’s Florida Matters.

Check out this video of the Photo Archives produced by USF student journalist Aldo Puccini. It shows the old cans of J. William Horsey Orange Juice that Gott said were given to him by someone who discovered the museum.

Read a portion of Gott’s story:

The purpose of the Plant City Photo Archives – it’s in our mission – it’s that we want to collect and preserve the history and heritage of the community.

We want people to see, “this is where you came from,” “these are your people,” “this is how you became who you are.” We want to make that available to the people and interpret it, write the stories for them.

We know there are approximately 120,000 images [at the Archives]. Land deeds going back to the early 1800s, we have maps – a very nice 1919 map of Plant City. Military photographs, we have yearbooks, marching parades – anything you can think of.

People who have relatives in Plant City, people who have lived in Plant City, people who have just heard of Plant City will somehow find us and come in to try to learn more about it.

We have people every day it seems that come in and say, “I’ve just got two minutes to spend and I want to just come in and look at some photographs.” Two hours later, they’re still sitting there with these binders piled up on the table going through all these photographs.

We’re always working with the people out there who want to know more about their history.

On a daily basis, people bring photos in and we have to process them and try to clean them up and preserve them so they don’t deteriorate.

We get calls and emails – we get a lot of emails. We had a gentleman email us from California saying his grandmother was from Plant City but nobody has any photos of her, and he thought she was here in the ‘30s but she moved away.

We found her photograph in a yearbook – 1937 yearbook, I think it was – emailed him that photograph and he was so delighted that he asked us to email him the whole yearbook, so we did. We found out one of his grandmother’s sisters was also in that school that year, and we get these frequently.

I had a man call from North Carolina, he said, “I was going through my grandfather’s barn and I found a can that said ‘Horsey Corp.’ on it, do you want it?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, and I said, “Sure!”

So in the mail came two cans that said J. William Horsey Corp. Orange Juice and I went into our collection of photographs and found 43 photographs of the Horsey Corp. I didn’t know we had them. So now I’ve written a story about the Horsey Corp., which was one of the largest citrus-producing companies in the nation.

If you notice there are changes going on in the newspaper world. They don’t cover what they used to; some newspapers are going out of business.

People aren’t taking photographs anymore. We’re beginning to lose our history, and I thought we need to inculcate in our youth the concept of preservation of history, and I thought, “How do I do that? Well, why don’t I start a Jr. Archivist Club?”

Then one day my wife showed me a catalogue with children’s books and it was called “Be a Document Detective” series, so that’s it. We founded the Jr. Archivist Club and we called it “Be a History Detective,” and they [the kids] liked the concept – they didn’t know what an archivist was, but they liked the detective part.

The first program we did was “Be a Photograph Detective.” We took photographs and showed them, and I bought them huge magnifying glasses that they absolutely loved, and then they examined and analyzed all these photographs one at a time. “What’s in there?” “What are they doing?” “Why are they doing it?” And the kids are loving it.

We started with one [Jr. Archivist], then we had three, then we had five and now we have about nine of the children and three mothers and one grandmother. They also participate because it’s such an interesting program.

Gott’s story was produced by Stephanie Colombini. He was interviewed by Mark Schreiner and USF student journalist Aldo Puccini at the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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